Regular City Council Meeting


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  Regular   6.a.ii.       
Meeting Date: 09/27/2021  
TITLE:    Zone Change 998 - Sweetgrass - N4 to N3, N2, N1, NX1 & Public 1 (MR-PND) Public Hearing
PRESENTED BY: Nicole Cromwell
Department: Planning & Community Services  

The Zoning Commission recommends approval and adoption of the findings of the ten review criteria for Zone Change 998, a Mixed Residential Planned Neighborhood Development zone change consisting of N3, N2, N1, NX1 and Public 1 zone districts.
BACKGROUND (Consistency with Adopted Plans and Policies, if applicable)
This is a zone change request for a new Planned Neighborhood Development zone change for a proposed annexation of a 53.45 acre parcel south of Rimrock Road, west of 54th St West and east of 58th St West. The proposed Mixed Residential PND will include 20.83 acres of N2, 10.36 acres of NX1, 3.793 acres of N3 zoning, 2.92 acres of N1 zoning and about 2.5 acres of open space (P1). The PND is a new zoning tool to help guide the coordination of annexation, subdivisions, and master planning for new city neighborhoods. The previous zoning code allowed urban-type zoning districts in both the city and the county. In many cases, developers were "pre-zoning" parcels in the county prior to annexation. The new PND tool will allow developers to process all the zoning with the City Council, phase the annexation of the property (if necessary), and coordinate both of these processes with subdivision or master site plan review. The new tool applies a level of certainty to all stakeholders, including the surrounding property owners.

This zone change is for a Mixed Residential PND and includes some mixed residential zoning (NX1) in the southwest corner of the property, Mid-Century Neighborhood (N2) zoning for about 51% of the net land area and the remaining area in First Neighborhood (N1), Suburban Neighborhood (N3) and Open Space (P1) districts. There are neighborhood scale open spaces shown on the plan as required by the PND regulations. A master plan for the use and development of this open space is not yet completed. The applicant also owns another 33 acre parcel south of this subject property that is remaining in the county and is zoned N4 - Large Lot Suburban Residential Neighborhood.

OWNER: Regal Land Development, Inc. Dan Wells
AGENT: In Site Engineering, Scott Worthington, P.E.
LEGAL DESCRIPTION: R. L. Subdivision, Lot 1
ADDRESS: Generally located west of 54th St W, east of 58th St West and south of Rimrock Road
CURRENT ZONING: Large Lot Suburban Neighborhood (N4)
EXISTING LAND USE: Agriculture and residence (one)
PROPOSED USE: New Mixed Residential Neighborhood
SIZE OF PARCEL: 53.452 acres

Petition for Annexation 21-10

NORTH: Zoning: Large Lot Suburban Neighborhood (N4)
Land Use: County residences on large lots (Sweetgrass Creek Drive)
SOUTH: Zoning: N4 and Public 1 - Open Space and Parks (P1)
Land Use: Vacant land and Cottonwood Park
EAST: Zoning: Public 2 - Civic and Institutions (P2) and N4
Land Use: Church and vacant residential land
WEST: Zoning: Rural Residential 1 (RR1)
Land Use: County residences on lots of 1 to 3 acres

This area of Billings has experienced a great deal of growth and development in the past decade. This includes seven major urban subdivisions: Vintage Estates/Legacy (5500 Grand), Cottonwood Grove (54th St W & Grand), Mont Vista (54th St W and Rimrock Rd), Foxtail Village (58th St W & Grand), Trails West (59th St W & Grand), Daybreak (55th St W & Grand) and Grand Peaks (52nd St W and Grand). Commercial zoning and development have started to occur at the intersection of 54th St West and Grand Avenue and the school district built a new middle school - Ben Steele Middle School - at 56th St W and Grand adjacent to the Trails West subdivision. Housing demand has reached a high level while supply of all types of housing choices has not kept up with the demand.

At least two decades ago, local planning and growth policy documents indicated a need for independent living units for aging residents who want to "downsize" from a maintenance heavy single family dwelling on a large lot to unit ownership or townhomes as well as rental apartments. The 2010 Census indicated Billings, like many other urban areas, saw a reduction in average household size to 2.3 persons. Smaller households, aging residents and the higher costs of all housing has driven the demand for apartments, townhomes, and smaller multi-family products. Developers have made robust investments in similar dwelling choices in this northwest area west of Shiloh Road. Housing types in the immediate area do not include many options for attached single family dwellings, smaller dwellings on small lots (less than 1/4 acre), or apartments of any kind. In Foxtail Village, of the 119 residences, only 38 are attached single family dwellings. Vintage Estates/Legacy will have about 175 single family homes at full build out on lots that average over 13,000 square feet in area, with current listings over $650,000 for existing 5-bedroom homes. Most homes in this subdivision average well over 3,800 square feet in living space on 2 or more levels. Cottonwood Grove features all single family dwellings (154), as does Daybreak (77) and Trails West (300) but on smaller average lots of less than 7,000 square feet. Grand Peaks does offer some single family attached townhomes (4-unit buildings and 2-unit buildings) but the majority are single family detached homes on large lots. 

There are challenges to an area of urban development that is on the edge of the city limits. These challenges include ensuring the adjacent county property owners and uses are protected as much as possible from conflicts with the new urban neighborhood residents and uses. This is not meant to ensure similarity or homogenous development patterns between the city and county, but the development plan includes buffering, connectivity where and when needed, and recognition of similar goals for both types of property. The 2016 Billings Growth Policy and the 2001 West Billings Neighborhood Plan goals and policies support the proposed Mixed Residential PND. The West Billings Neighborhood Plan goals and objectives stated the need to locate compatible uses and offer a range of housing choices and development densities. The proposed zone change supports these goals. The 2016 Billings Growth Policy supports a broad range of housing choices, encourages more walkable neighborhoods with connectivity to other transportation options, and building the community fabric through urban designed public spaces. The proposed zone change supports these goals as well.
The applicant and agent conducted a pre-application neighborhood meeting on July 21, 2021 and 12 surrounding owners attended. The meeting was held in a virtual format. The surrounding owners asked questions about the proposed improvements to Sweetgrass Creek Drive, connections to the city water and sewer for existing homes, and the type of proposed development. Owners were concerned that large apartments with parking garages would be built. Neighbors had concerns about de-watering when the water and sewer lines were installed. The applicant and agent answered these questions. A summary of the meeting is included as an attachment.

As part of the PND zone change process, the applicant is also required to hold a pre-application Concept Review meeting with city staff to address any concerns with the street layout, zone districts, access, parks, utilities and similar infrastructure provisions. Staff was generally supportive of the proposed street layout and distribution of the zone districts.

Two letters (emails) of comment were received by the Zoning Commission just prior to the public hearing on September 7th. Those letters of comment are included as attachments to this report.

The Zoning Commission conducted a public hearing on September 7th and received the staff report, and testimony from the applicant and agent. Testimony was also received from Lorna Clark, who is a part owner of the property south and east of the subject property on the east side of 54th Street West. Mrs. Clark expressed concern for the value of her property as it is on the market for sale right now. She also expressed concern with ditch water and groundwater levels after the development is built. The final concern was the level of traffic to be added to 54th St West, a two-lane arterial street providing a major north/south connection between Rimrock Road and Grand Avenue.  Mr. Wells, the applicant, provided comments on the concerns of Mrs. Clark. He stated it has been his experience of over 30 years, that new development always results in increased property values for surrounding properties whether those properties were urban or rural. He stated the groundwater on his property has been studied and ranges from just 18 inches below grade to 12 feet below grade. He state the High Ditch that borders the property on the south will not be effected by the development and all stormwater from the project will be managed and retained as required by the city. Mr. Wells stated a traffic study is underway to assess the impact of the new development on surrounding streets and intersections. He stated he would be providing any required improvements as a result of this traffic reports by either putting those improvements in place or paying cash to the city to make those improvements in the future.

Commission member Dan Brooks made a motion to recommend approval and adoption of the findings of the ten criteria for Zone Change 998. The motion was seconded by Commission member Trina White. The motion was approved on a 4 to 0 vote.
The City Council may:
  • Adopt the Zoning Commission's recommendation of approval and adopt of the findings of the ten review criteria for Zone Change 998; or,
  • Deny the zone change and adopt different findings of the ten review criteria for Zone Change 998; or,
  • Delay action on the zone change request for up to 30 days; or,
  • Allow the applicant to withdraw the zone change request.
Approval or denial of the proposed zone change will not have an effect on the Planning Division budget.
Before making a decision on the request, the City Council shall consider the Zoning Commission's recommended findings of the ten review criteria for Zone Change 998:
1) Is the new zoning designed in accordance with the Growth Policy?
The proposed zone change is consistent with the following guidelines of the 2016 Growth Policy and the West Billings Neighborhood Plan (2001):

The West Billings Neighborhood Plan goals and objectives stated the need to locate compatible uses and offer a range of housing choices and development densities. The West Billings Plan adopted a number of Goals, Policies, and Implementation Strategies. The proposed MR-PND for Sweetgrass Creek is consistent with the following adopted Policies of Planned Growth Goal 1: Establish Development Patterns that Use Land More Efficiently

Policy R “Encourage innovative land-use planning techniques to be used in building higher density and mixed-use developments as well as infill developments."

The proposed MR-PND is compatible with goals of the West Billings Neighborhood Plan. The proposed zone change and street layout will accommodate uses that are compatible in a mixed-residential environment. The proposed development will also have good access to outdoor activities and is in proximity to a proposed regional park - Cottonwood Park. 54th St West is an arterial street and neighborhood services are beginning to develop at the intersection of 54th St W and Grand Avenue.

The proposed amendment is also in line with the adopted 2016 Growth Policy goals for:
Strong Neighborhoods:
  • Zoning regulations that allow a mixture of housing types provide housing options for all age groups and income levels
  • Walkable neighborhoods that permit convenient destinations such as neighborhood services, open space, parks, schools and public gathering spaces foster health, goodwill and social interaction
  • Safe and livable neighborhoods can be achieved through subdivision design that focuses on complete streets, pedestrian-scale street lights, street trees and walkable access to public spaces
  • Neighborhoods that are safe and attractive and provide essential services are much desired Implementation of the Infill Policy is important to encourage development of underutilized properties
Home Base:
  • A mix of housing types that meet the needs of a diverse population is important
  • The Housing Needs Assessment is an important tool to ensure Billings recognizes and meets the demands of future development
  • Common to all types of housing choices is the desire to live in surroundings that are affordable, healthy and safe
  • Planning and construction of interconnected sidewalks and trails are important to the economy and livability of Billings
  • Public safety and emergency service response are critical to the well-being of Billings’ residents
  • Homes that are safe and sound support a healthy community
The proposed layout for the Sweetgrass Creek will allow the higher density housing - the NX1 - in the south and west portion of the 53-acre site. The NX1 zone allows 1-4 family dwellings and these can develop on fee simple lots or on larger lots in a common area arrangement or unit ownership. A majority of the neighborhood will be zoned for single family or two-family dwellings (N1 & N2). Three park areas are shown that range from about 1/2-acre up to about 3/4-acre. These areas as shown meet the minimum requirements for the PND zone process. 

2) Is the new zoning designed to secure from fire and other dangers?
The zoning requires minimum setbacks, open and landscaped areas and building separations. The zoning assembly and street layout is designed to secure the development from fire and other dangers. The Planning staff may recommend minor adjustments of the street layout during the subdivision review process to allow connectivity to the owner's additional parcel to the south.

3) Whether the new zoning will promote public health, public safety and general welfare?
Public health and public safety will be promoted by the proposed change. Approval of the overall zoning plan and street layout will provide certainty both for the property owner and the surrounding owners. Annexation and provision of public health and safety services from the city will promote the general welfare of the area.

4) Will the new zoning facilitate the adequate provision of transportation, water, sewerage, schools, parks and other public requirement?
Transportation: The applicant has started the process of developing a traffic impact study and will coordinate with the city Engineering Division  to ensure access to and from the entire development will be safe and adequate traffic controls and management are in place. A multi-use path has already been constructed along 54th St West, but additional street improvements will be necessary on 54th St W, 58th St W and Sweetgrass Creek Drive. As each area of the new neighborhood is developed, a review of the original traffic plan will ensure the required mitigation is still relevant or in need of updating.
Water and Sewer: The City will provide water and sewer to the property. There will be no additional impacts to the system from the proposed changes.
Schools and Parks: Schools and parks may be effected by the proposed zone change and development of a new city neighborhood. SD #2 did not provide any comments.
Fire and Police: The subject property will be served by city public safety services. The Police and Fire Departments had no concerns with the zone change.

5) Will the new zoning provide adequate light and air?
The proposed zoning provides for sufficient setbacks to allow for adequate separation between structures and adequate light and air.

6) Will the new zoning effect motorized and non-motorized transportation?
Non-motorized travel – walking and biking – is an essential part of the circulation plan both within the proposed development and connecting to adjacent areas including the multi-use trail on 54th St W and to the nearby parks, schools and shopping areas. Pedestrian connections will be ensured through the development. Traffic counts on 54th St West are well below the expected volume on a principal arterial street. Current volume is about 3,500 to 4,500 vehicles per day while an arterial street can handle 4 to 5 times this volume on a regular basis. A recent traffic count on 58th St West shows only 360 vehicles per day on average. 58th St West is a gravel-built county dedicated right of way. Sweetgrass Creek Drive is also a gravel built county dedicated right of way. Both of these adjacent street will require city-level improvements as part of the development. 

7) Will the new zoning will promote compatible urban growth?
The proposed increase in the overall development density is compatible with urban growth and the provision of city level services to the new residents. The proposed zone district boundaries are consistent with the urban growth in this area and will be compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods.

8) Does the new zoning consider the character of the district and the peculiar suitability of the property for particular uses?
The proposed zoning does consider the character of the district and the suitability of the property for the proposed use. This area west of 54th St West is an area undergoing rapid urban development and growth. Demand for a wide range of housing choices is suitable for this area.

9) Will the new zoning conserve the value of buildings?
The property is an agricultural parcel. There is a barn structure on Sweetgrass Creek Drive (5600 Sweetgrass Creek Drive). There should be no effect on the value of this structure from the proposed zoning. It can continue to be used for agricultural purposes until it is demolished or removed from the property. Approval of the zone change will provide predictability to surrounding landowners and may help to maintain property values of adjacent buildings.

10) Will the new zoning encourage the most appropriate use of land throughout the City of Billings?
The proposed MR-PND will encourage the most appropriate use of this land in Billings.

Zoning Map and Site Photos
Proposed Zoning Exhibit
Zoning History Chart
Applicant Letter
Preapplication Meeting Notes
Public Comments on ZC 998
Ordinance ZC 998


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